California authorities have stepped up their enforcement against illegal marijuana sellers.
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The state was first to legalize medical marijuana in 1996 and more recently legalized recreational marijuana too, but cannabis industry leaders told the Los Angeles Times that thousands of illegal unlicensed retailers have been operating in the state.
Licensed sellers, who have to pay state and local taxes, said unlicensed shops are undercutting them. In May, the California Minority Alliance, a marijuana retailer group, threatened to sue Los Angeles over the alleged lack of enforcement, Marijuana Business Daily reported.
“Unlicensed shops have been a public nuisance and pose a critical public safety issue to the residents of South Los Angeles,” the group wrote in a letter to the city. “The lack of enforcement has turned safe communities into havens for illicit activity encouraging the proliferation of unlawful cannabis operations.”
A few weeks later, the state Bureau of Cannabis Control announced it seized more than $2.7 million in cannabis products from a pair of unlicensed Costa Mesa stores. Earlier this month, authorities said they seized another $1.6 million in cannabis products from an illegal retailer in Banning.
Altogether, California has tripled the number of raids against the unlicensed shops so far this year, the Times reported. Authorities served just six search warrants against unlicensed shops in 2018. In the first six months of 2019, they served 19 warrants, seizing more than 2,500 pounds of pot products and more than $200,000 in cash.
“We recognize the importance of enforcement for a strong regulated cannabis industry and continue to partner with local jurisdictions to address issues related to unlicensed cannabis business,” Lori Ajax, chief of the state bureau, told the Times.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom also OK’d fines of up to $30,000 per day for unlicensed marijuana growers, according to the report. And the California Department of Fish and Wildlife told the newspaper that its joint operations recently seized more than 12,000 illegal plants, 800 pounds of processed marijuana, 15 firearms and more than $435,000 in cash.
Still, Lindsay Robertson, executive director of the California Cannabis Industry Association, told the Times that there should have been hundreds of enforcement actions by now.
“California has always struggled with enforcement of the illicit industry,” Robinson said.
While officials have been increasingly targeting the unlicensed sellers, they’re also trying to make it easier for consumers to report the illegal shows. The state set up a website to look up the licenses for marijuana sellers, and it also has a page for filing complaints.